yellow cake

triple blueberry layer cake

Well look at me, another fancy ass layer cake!

triple blueberry layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I generally try to reserve these “celebration” cakes for special occasions, namely my blogging anniversary or my birthday or Russell’s, mostly because they’re a whole mess more complicated than bundts or simpler “everyday” cakes, but also because I really don’t need all this cake in my house on the regular.

triple blueberry layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Only about a month after my own birthday though, another special occasion came up that was a huge deal and really called for a seriously fancy ass cake.

triple blueberry layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Last week my grandfather turned 90 years old!!!

To celebrate, we had a little reunion with 4 generations of grandpa’s family and it could not have been a more perfect day. It was so great to see everyone, especially some cousins I hadn’t seen in maybe a decade or more. There was even a sidewalk snail race thanks to the tupperware full of snails my little nephew found in my sister’s garden the day before.

Of course, it being my family, we definitely overdid it with the food. We did a pot-luck style bbq with all the traditional sides; bratwurst, hot dogs & burgers, German potato salad, baked beans, pasta salad, veggies, cheese & crackers, deviled eggs, watermelon & a fruit tray. My grandma spent the better part of the day going around telling everyone to eat more because we’d never get through everything. I brought my favorite coleslaw, and of course, I was in charge of dessert.

triple blueberry layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

To be honest, I can’t even imagine living to 90 years old, especially looking as great and remaining as active as grandpa is at his age.

Although he definitely needs more help around the house than he used to, he and my grandma still live in the country on their own and he still keeps a garden and a small fruit orchard.

A few years ago he had to give up on the gigantic strawberry patch he used to have because he couldn’t bend down to pick them all, but since then he’s planted a couple dozen blueberry bushes, all different varieties so they ripen at different points in the summer, and now blueberries are his favorite!

triple blueberry layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

So, I knew blueberry cake was the way to go for grandpa’s 90th!

Grandpa loves blueberry pie, so I made a fresh blueberry jam/pie filling to use between the layers of cake, and then for a brighter, fresher blueberry flavor, I decided to use freeze dried blueberries in the actual cake recipe. When you use freeze dried fruit, it retains much of the freshness of actual fresh fruit, but it’s completely dry so it doesn’t water down your batter. I ground the berries into a powder in the food processor and then mixed that into part of the batter, swirling that in to the remaining plain batter like marble cake.

At first I considered adding lemon zest to the icing, but opted for simple vanilla to avoid competing with the blueberry flavor. Last but not least, the cake was topped with a mound of fresh blueberries, both for flavor, and so that people could tell it was a berry cake even though the icing was solid white.

triple blueberry layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

The cake was a HUGE hit. Usually a quiet, stoic German man, complements don’t come super easily from my grandpa, but he must have come over to compliment and thank me for this cake at least 5 times. Nice and moist and not to sweet. His cousin even came over to shake my hand because he liked it so much!

This cake is SUPER blueberry-y. The freeze dried blueberries really come through, and just like grandpa said, the cake is moist and tender and just sweet enough. The blueberry filling tastes just like blueberry pie filling or homemade jam, and the vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream is delicately sweet, smooth and silky, and definitely lets the blueberry filling shine without anything competing with it.

If you love blueberries, you HAVE to make this cake y’all!

triple blueberry layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Triple Blueberry Layer Cake

  • Servings: 12 to 16-ish
  • Print
Blueberry Vanilla Swirl Yellow Cake
makes three 8-inch layers

3 1/3 cups all purpose flour (plus 1 tablespoon for blueberries)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup peanut oil or vegetable oil
2 1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1.2 oz bag freeze dried blueberries (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line the bottoms of three 8″ cake pans with parchment paper. No need to butter and flour the pans. *see note
In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt until well combined.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on high for about 3 minutes, or until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed and add oil, then the eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla until just combined.
Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of milk), fully incorporating after each addition.
Add 1 tablespoon of flour & freeze dried blueberries to a food processor and pulse into a fine powder. Its okay if there are a few small chunks left, but get it as fine as possible.
Divide about 1/2 to 2/3 of the batter evenly between the three pans. Mix the freeze dried blueberry powder into the remaining 1/3 to 1/2 of the batter and fold in to combine. Divide blueberry batter between the three pans by dotting the tops of the cakes, then use a small spatula or knife to swirl it in.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. If using bake-even strips, they may need a few additional minutes.
Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.
If the cakes domed in the oven, you’ll want to slice the very tops of the cakes off to make each layer completely flat and level for a more professional look. You can do this using a very sharp bread knife, or a cake leveler.
If you’re not assembling cakes right away, individually wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap to prevent drying. Layers can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two, or frozen (wrapped in plastic wrap first, then aluminum foil) for up to two weeks. You may want to consider brushing the layers with simple syrup if you’re refrigerating or freezing them.

*baker’s note: Not buttering or flouring your cake pans actually helps the cakes keep their shape better when cooling and helps prevent the outer edges of the cakes from overcooking. The parchment will allow the bottoms to release from the pans easily, but you may need to run a knife or a toothpick around the outside edge before turning out of the pans.

Blueberry “Jam” Filling:
(You may also use store bought blueberry jam)
18 oz Fresh Blueberries (about 4 cups)
2 cups sugar
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons corn starch

Reserve about 1/2 cup of the blueberries for the decoration/topping of the cake. Pulse the remaining 3 1/2 cups berries in a food processor just to break them up a bit. Don’t puree them. You can also mash them up with a potato masher instead.
Add the blueberries to a large heavy pot or sauce pan, and stir in the sugar, salt, & cornstarch. The mixture will boil up a lot so a large pot is important.
Bring the mixture to a rolling boil over medium-high to high heat, stirring occasionally, and boil for 15 minutes or until reduced and thickened.
Transfer to a heat safe bowl or container and refrigerate until ready for use. If it’s a bit thinner than normal jam, that’s fine.

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing:
Adapted from “Layered” by Tessa Huff
3/4 cup fresh egg whites (not pasteurized egg whites)
1 1/2 cups sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (cut into 1 tablespoon slices)
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Place the egg whites, sugar, & salt in a very clean bowl of a stand mixer and whisk them together by hand to combine. Fill a medium saucepan with an inch or two of water and bring to a simmer over medium to medium-high heat. Place the mixer bowl over the saucepan to create a double boiler. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t directly touch the water, and that the water doesn’t reach a full boil.
Heat the egg whites until they register 160F on a candy thermometer, whisking regularly to avoid cooking the whites. As soon as they’re at the correct temperature, carefully attach the mixer bowl to the stand mixer and add the whisk attachment.
Beat the egg whites on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes until they hold stiff peaks and the outside of the bowl is cooled to room temperature. Stop the mixer and swap the whisk attachment for the paddle.
On low speed, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, waiting for it to incorporate before adding more. Once all the butter is mixed in, add the vanilla extract and mix in to incorporate. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is smooth and silky, about 3 to 5 minutes.
If the mixture starts to look curdled, just keep beating. It’ll come together.
If the whites were still too warm when the butter was added and the buttercream is too thin and soupy, refrigerate the bowl in 10 minute bursts until it’s cool (but not cold) and beat again until smooth.

Assemble cake:
Place the first cake layer on an 8″ cardboard cake round, serving plate, or cake stand. Using a cake round will make it easier to ice and decorate, especially if you have a revolving turntable for decorating (I use a lazy suzan, but you can also just spin your plate or cake stand while you work).

Fit a piping bag with a large round or star tip and fill with a cup or two of the Swiss meringue buttercream. Pipe a thick dam of icing around the outside of the cake to contain the blueberry filling. This will ensure that the filling stays in place and doesn’t squish out when the layers are stacked.

Place about half of the filling in the center of the cake and spread it smooth and even using an icing spatula. Add the next layer of cake, looking from directly over the top and from eye level at the cake to make sure each layer is directly one above the other, rotating the cake to be certain. Repeat the same procedure with the buttercream dam and the other half of the filling, then add the third and final layer of cake and check for straightness again. Using about half of the remaining icing, crumb coat your cake (If you have any icing left in the piping bag, empty it out and use that too). Starting with the top of the cake, spread the icing thin and work some of it down the sides of the cake to completely cover the whole thing in a thin, smooth, even coat of icing. This first layer of icing seals the cake and keeps crumbs from being visible in the outer layer of icing. It may seem like unnecessary trouble, but it really is worth it to get a smooth professional finish on the icing.

Place the cake in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to an hour to help set the icing and firm up the cake.
Reserve about 1/4 cup of icing for decorating (optional), and spread the remaining buttercream over the whole cake the same way you did the crumb coat. Start by smoothing the top and slowly working the icing down the sides to cover the cake completely. Try to get the icing as completely smooth as possible with straight sides and a flat, level top. I use a long offset icing spatula. If desired, once the icing is smooth, you can use the tip of a small icing spatula or butter knife to create a swirl in the top & sides. Make a small smooth mound in the center of the top of the cake with the reserved 1/4 cup of icing, and cover the mound as completely as possible with the reserved fresh blueberries so it looks like a heaping pile of blueberries. (If you tried to just make an actual heaping pile of blueberries, they’d roll off the top of the cake) If you have some blueberries left, dot them around the mound so they look like they spilled away.

Refrigerate the cake again for at least another 30 minutes to set the icing before covering or serving.

This cake will keep well in a cake saver at room temperature for a day or two if the weather is not too hot or humid. Otherwise, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

If refrigerating, bring cake to room temperature at least two hours before serving.

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strawberry basil layer cake

I’ve officially made it through another entire year of life.
(I recently celebrated a birthday.)

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I am a big fan of surprise parties, and I’ve thrown a couple for Russell over the course of our relationship, but Russell can’t keep a secret to save his life. If he ever decided he wanted to throw me a surprise party, he’d probably accidentally let the cat out of the bag before he invited any guests.
He’s the kind of person that wants to give me my Christmas presents the day he buys them, while I am the kind of person who staunchly refuses to even look in the general direction of my gifts until Christmas day. His eagerness and honesty are positive qualities in the grand scheme of things, but, like I said, I am a big fan of surprise parties.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

That means that I am usually responsible, to some extent at least, for the planning of my own birthday party each year. I asked Russell to take the lead in throwing the party this year, but he said he didn’t want to be in charge because I’m “too controlling” about parties. I was pretty annoyed at first, but then realized he’s probably right. I’m such a perfectionist, and love entertaining so much, that I do tend to get a bit uptight about wanting everything to be just right.

After making him feel appropriately crappy for calling me controlling, I assured him that this year I didn’t want to play any part in the planning, save for one single thing.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I wanted to make my own cake.

I know.
I’m weird.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Last year I made my own cake too, a 3 layer funfetti cake with the sides completely covered in tiny rainbow nonpareils. Most people, when told that I planned to make my own cake, reacted with a mix of sorrow and horror.

How depressing? Why?!?!? You’re not supposed to make your own birthday cake. That’s just sad!

But here’s the thing. I love to bake. I just do. It’s one of my favorite hobbies, and I’m pretty good at it. Birthdays are big festive events and I think they call for big festive baked goods. Russell isn’t much of a baker, and I know that anything from the grocery store wouldn’t be half as good as what I could make myself. I also know that a cake from fancy pants specialty bakery here in Brooklyn would cost an arm and a leg.

So, the so called “rules” against making your own birthday cake went out the window and it was game on. Again.

 strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve been thinking about what I’d do for months, and while I knew that I wanted to include the flavor of fresh strawberries, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d do it. I could bake the strawberries into the layers of the cake, or mix them into the icing, but after some thought I decided to just let them sing as fresh sliced berries stuffed between layers of cake.

Next I had to decide on cake and icing flavors. Originally I thought I might go in a kind of strawberry shortcake direction with yellow cake and whipped cream icing, but then I had to go and turn on the damned TV. There was some show on the cooking channel about a bakery using “basil sugar” made by grinding white sugar and fresh basil together in a food processor. The idea is that since the sugar absorbs the basil’s oils, baked goods made using the sugar taste fresher than they would if made with basil puree.

It didn’t take long for the wheels to start turning about a strawberry layer cake paired with the subtle summery flavor of basil.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Knowing that I wanted this cake to be a real knock-out, I decided to test the idea out ahead of time. I found a recipe for basil sugar online and conducted an experiment with three different batches of cupcakes. The first batch was made with one of my favorite yellow cake recipes, the next with half of the white sugar substituted with basil sugar, and the third with an even higher basil sugar ratio.

To complicate my life even further, the pinterest gods had to go and show me a beautiful layer cake iced with a basil buttercream made from milk and cream steeped with fresh basil leaves.

I decided, just in case, that I should try the basil buttercream out for my “control group” cupcakes, while the two batches of basil sugar cupcakes would be topped with stabilized whipped cream. All three versions were cored and filled with fresh strawberries, and I took a big tray of cupcakes to work and started taking votes.

As much as everyone loved the cakes made with basil sugar (the 1/2 basil to 1/2 white ratio worked best), I was surprised to find that the silky smooth texture and amazing flavor of the basil buttercream won by a landslide. I still love the basil sugar idea, and have a tub of it in my freezer waiting to line the rims of cocktail glasses or get sprinkled on vanilla ice cream or fresh berries.

For my purposes though, the experiment gave me the results I needed and the plan for the cake was settled. Tender yellow cake layers would be stuffed with fresh sliced strawberries and everything would be coated in a satin layer of palest green basil buttercream.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

The day of the party came, and Russell did it up right proper. Good friends, good food, good music, good wine, and good weather on a good night in our backyard. A smoking grill and a big bowl of phenomenal homemade guacamole. Rosé by the bucket. It was perfect. Best husband ever. After all, he puts up with me, uptight perfectionist and all.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Then, toward the end of the evening, there was the pièce de résistance.

While it’s true that I write a food blog (you may have noticed) and getting feedback and words of encouragement comes with the territory, getting compliments in person tends to make me feel more than a little uncomfortable.

When the cake was served I was made plenty uneasy by the barrage of positivity coming my way. Maybe it was the river of wine and whiskey that was flowing in the yard that night, but people were plenty free with the praise for this cake.
You made this?!?! The crumb is so tender! Those fresh strawberries!! And OMG that basil icing!!!
People are still talking about it almost two weeks later.

Happy birthday to me!

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Strawberry Stuffed Yellow Layer Cake with Basil Buttercream

Fresh Strawberry Filling:
2 lbs fresh strawberries (plus another 1/2 lb for decorating if desired)
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wash strawberries and place let them drain in a colander or dry on a towel. Working only with the 2 lbs for the filling, hull the strawberries and slice them thinly. Place in a medium bowl and toss with sugar, salt, and vanilla. Allow the strawberries to macerate in the sugar for at least an hour or two at room temperature.
Drain the juices from the bowl into a small to medium saucepan. Over medium/high heat, reduce the strawberry juice by about half or a little more, stirring frequently. This should take about 20 minutes. Cool the reduced juice completely before pouring back over the berries and tossing to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake.

Yellow Cake:
adapted from Epicurious

4 cups cake flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8×2-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. (I use pre-cut parchment rounds) Butter the parchment and lightly coat the interior of the pans with flour. Refrigerate until ready for use.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium/high speed for 3 minutes or until light and creamy in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cream the butter for an additional minute.
Add the sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating for 30 seconds to a minute after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Once all sugar is added, scrape down the bowl and add the eggs one at a time.
Stir the vanilla into the buttermilk. Reduce the mixer speed to low or stir, and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Mix just until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. If possible use a scale to ensure each pan has the same amount of batter.
Lift up each pan about an inch and let them drop onto the counter top to knock out any air bubbles and settle the batter.
Center the pans onto a rack in the lower third of the oven and let bake 45 to 50 minutes or until the cakes are lightly brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean.

Let cool on a rack for about an hour before removing from pans. Leave parchment rounds on the bottoms of the cakes until assembly, and return layers, parchment side down, to the rack until completely cool to the touch.

Basil Buttercream
adapted ever so slightly from the Vanilla Bean Blog

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh basil leaves, well packed
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (three sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces (about 70 degrees – butter should be  soft enough to mix well, but firm enough to give some structure to the buttercream)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Combine milk, heavy cream, and basil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat gently, until just simmering, and remove from the heat. Let cool for about 30 minutes and pour the mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Process for about 30 seconds or until the basil is well chopped. Scrape all basil and liquid into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or ideally overnight.
Pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Use the back of a spoon to squeeze any ‘basil juice’ from the leaves into the milk/cream mixture. Whisk in the flour and sugar, and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 or 15 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Place a kitchen towel over the top of the mixer to prevent splashing. Beat on high speed until the mixture has completely cooled, about 7-9 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. At first it might not look right, but just keep going. Increase the mixer speed to medium/high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about another 2 minutes.
Add the vanilla and mix until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Assembly:
1) Level the tops of the cake layers using a cake leveler or a very sharp serrated knife.

2) Place the first layer on an 8″ cardboard cake round or on a cake stand.  Place the round or cake stand on a revolving turntable or lazy suzan.

3) Fill a piping bag with about one cup of the basil buttercream icing. It isn’t necessary to fit the bag with a decorating tip.

4) Pipe a tall border around the perimeter of the first layer, using about 1/2 of the icing in the bag.

5) Top the first layer with about half of your strawberries and reduced juice, staying within the icing border. Try to even the berries out so they’re in an even level layer.

6) Center the next layer over the first, checking from several angles to be sure the layers are perfectly lined up straight and evenly.

7) Repeat steps 4, 5, & 6.

8) Using about 1/3 to 1/2 of the remaining icing , cover the entire outside of the cake with a thin crumb coat using an icing spatula. I like to pile the icing at the top of the cake and work it down the sides little by little, turning the turntable as you go, until the entire cake is coated. I find that an offset spatula is easier to use, but that’s up to you.
This step ensures that any crumbs coming off the cake will be captured in this first thin layer of icing and will not show on the finished cake. I find it also makes it easier to get a smooth profession looking final layer of icing.

9) Refrigerate the entire cake for about 30 minutes to an hour. This step sets the crumb coat so it doesn’t mix into your final top layer of icing. I also find that it helps steady the filling and makes the layers of cake less likely to slip and slide around while you’re trying to ice or decorate.

10) Using the remaining icing, coat the entire cake using an icing spatula in the same way you did the crumb coat.

11) Try to smooth the icing as much as possible using your spatula or a straight bench scraper. I find that holding the spatula straight up and down, almost stationary, while turning the cake is the easiest way to get a smooth finish to the sides.

12) If desired, top the cake with the remaining 1/2 cup strawberries and a few leaves of basil. I think it looks more attractive if the stems and leaves are still attached to the berries, but that’s your call. It will mean that your guests will have to remove the stems themselves if they plan to eat the berries along with the cake.  If you’d prefer to do a piped icing border you will need to reserve some icing, or increase the recipe slightly.

For a more in depth tutorial, see my funfetti birthday cake recipe from last year. For an AMAZING how-to video on how to get a smooth and professional icing job, check out this “modern buttercream” class, completely free, from Craftsy.

If you need to refrigerate the cake, I recommend letting it chill in the fridge for about an hour to set the icing before covering in plastic wrap (so the wrap doesn’t stick to the icing and ruin the smooth coat you worked so hard to create.) This cake is at it’s best the day it’s baked, but once covered, it can be refrigerated for a day or two. The fresh berries may lose their freshness the longer it’s held. Bring completely to room temperature before serving, at least an hour or two.